Make no mistake about it, this was Jeff Tuel's game. The sophomore quarterback placed the Cougars on his back and carried them, dragging along countless Oregon State players in the process. After the worst game of his career against Cal last week, Tuel bounced back -- and he did it in a big way.
A look at the stat line shows you all you need to know. Tuel was incredibly efficient, both with his arm and his legs. He only threw the ball 15 times, completing 10 of them for 157 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a direct result of his legs. With Oregon State worried about Tuel taking off, Tuel rolled, faked an option, stepped back and threw a strike to Marquess Wilson to blow the game open and give the Cougs a 21-0 lead in the third quarter. It was all they needed.
Behind an offensive line that played poorly for most of the day, Tuel's ability to escape was a key. Countless times he felt the pressure, rolled away from it and took off downfield. Would I like him to throw more? Sure, but if the running lanes are there, he might as well take them.
There was a scary moment -- one that we've feared all season -- when Tuel took a hard shot diving into the end zone. He took a shot right in the helmet and stayed down, appearing to be dazed as he came off. On the sidelines, cameras caught him pleading to get back in, enough that the trainers took his helmet before the half.
I can't say enough about Tuel's toughness and leadership. He's had to absorb more shots than any quarterback should behind an offensive line that's looked lost at times, yet he still pops up and gets back to work. It was nice to see him slide after diving for extra yards most of the first half, however. Because without Tuel, WSU was a sitting duck, as we saw late in the first half.
Tuel wasn't perfect, but he didn't need to be. His only misses came on misplaced balls -- and that drop by Blackledge -- but, most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over. The ball never hit the turf while he was running and he didn't throw any back-breaking interceptions. After weeks of bad interceptions that came deep in the opponent's territory, Tuel was perfect this time.
It wasn't just the throws he made and the scrambles he took off on, but the throws he didn't make. Leading late in the game, Tuel rolled out and slide, staying inbounds and keeping the clock running. He frequently took a loss to avoid forcing a throw or taking an unnecessary hit. This is the maturation of Jeff Tuel.
The Cougs have an excellent sophomore quarterback and I couldn't be more proud of how he continues to grow as a leader on this team. Today was his day and he deserved that win. They all did.